“I have no illusions about myself, about my life, about leaving a legacy or making a mark in people’s lives. We are so insignificant. We are only here for a blink.” ― Miriam Defensor Santiago, Stupid is Forevermore
In spite of the humble words of the late senator, history has chronicled how Miriam Defensor-Santiago (June 15, 1945 – September 29, 2016) leaves an impact in people’s lives and becomes a significant icon of leadership in the Philippines―the Pearl of the East.
More than ever, the late senator is being missed in these times when the country is struggling to find an intellectual, passionate, diligent, and responsible leader. It might help us to reconsider our decisions in choosing a leader by looking back to her life, bequeathing an undying legacy for our young people.
The Iron Lady of Asia
Because of her firm political principles and moral inclination in fighting against graft and corruption, she was dubbed as “The Iron Lady,” similar to the former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
She was known to serve in the three branches of the government: judicial, executive, and legislative. In the judicial branch, she was appointed as judge of Quezon City’s Regional Trial Court (RTC). In the executive branch, she was assigned as a commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation and was promoted as the Secretary of Agrarian Reform. While in the legislative branch, she was elected as a senator for three terms from 1995–2001 and 2004–2016.
It was during her position as immigration commissioner when she was quoted to say “I eat death threats for breakfast.” It was this time when she earned her Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service with this inscription, “the Board of Trustees recognizes her bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency.” She was also named as one of “The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World” in The Australian Magazine.
Aside from being called as the Iron Lady of Asia, she was also known as the Incorruptible Lady, the Platinum Lady, the Tiger Lady, the Dragon Lady, the Queen of Popularity Polls, and the Undisputed Campus Hero, according to the Senate of the Philippines.
In her 2016 Presidential Campaign, which was her third time to run for the presidency, she always emphasized that we should choose a leader who has academic, professional, and moral excellence.
Academically, she was valedictorian when she graduated in elementary and high school. She finished her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science as a magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines Visayas and her second course Bachelor of Laws as cum laude from the University of the Philippines College of Law in Diliman. She had also earned other degrees, such as Master of Laws, Master of Religious Studies, Doctor of Laws, and Doctor of Juridical Science.
Professionally, in addition to her service in the three branches of the government, she also became a legal officer of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland and a consultant of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. The highest position would be in being elected as a judge in the United Nation’s International Criminal Court, which is first in the Philippines and Asia.
Morally, with her significant battle against corrupt officials, crime syndicates, pedophiles, fixers, bribe-takers, drug pushers, and gunrunners, she was a paragon of honesty in the government. The latest and biggest controversy that she had exposed was the PDAF (priority development assistance fund) anomaly or pork barrel scam. Her integrity as a leader is worthy to note because people tend to think that politics is marred with dirty and corrupt politicians. Knowing that someone like Miriam existed in the public service can boost people’s trust in the leaders they have allowed to sit in power.
Miriam had adopted the definition of leadership as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” On her speech at the Youth Forum on Student Leadership and Nationalism at the Rizal Technological University in 2015, she had noted the following characteristics of good leaders:
- Compassion for others
Somehow, losing Miriam is like losing someone to trust. However, we are hoping that her legacy will be imitated, if not surpassed by the potential leaders of this country.
The youth had always been the focus of Miriam’s campaign since 1992. She wanted that our young people will attain higher education and if possible, “to be better than her.”
With her intensive educational background, it might be right to say that she’s a great example for our students to follow. On account of her candidacy, she had always been advocating for free education, student loan system, scholarships, and subsidies for the poor. She also wanted to standardize the academic curriculum to secure young graduates of skills that are required by the job market.
Miriam had also encouraged the youth to participate in national issues. She said that they are never too young to make a difference and to participate in the political affairs of our country.
It is also significant to note that though Miriam is serious and feisty, her wit is always blended with witty humor and punchlines to mock stupidity, expose ignorance, fight corruption, and deal with moral depravity. Some of her lines are recorded in her two bestselling books “Stupid is Forever” and “Stupid is Forevermore.”
Faith in the Filipino People
In her campaign jingle, you can hear these lines “Aangat tayo sa galing ng Pilipino, aangat tayo kay Miriam Defensor Santiago.”
In line with her slogan, she had asserted that “We must have faith in ourselves. I have been to several countries, I have competed with other nationalities, and I tell you that in so far as natural resources are concerned, there is no better than the Filipino. Magaling ang Pilipino! There is nothing to hold the Filipino back except our lack of self-confidence.” (You can see her presidential platform in the infographic below.)
Miriam believes that the country can achieve its full progress because Filipinos are brilliant. In the 1992 Election, she was allegedly cheated with her first try for the presidency. However, as strong as she was, she still ran in the 1998 Election and for the second time, she was defeated again by black propaganda. And for the last time in her life, she tried to fulfill that through her help and with the abilities of the Filipino people, the country will rise again from the ashes of poverty and corruption, but then again, 2016 Election was a failure and became her last try. And together with the tagline and her dreams for this country, they will eternally Rest In Peace with her.
Indeed, the legacy of Miriam is a dramatic, epic, and remarkable story of a great woman. In the last presidential debate, she uttered:
“We are all united in this endeavor to improve and reform the Philippines… We all want to change the world for the better. But the person who prayed should be emulated. He said, “God, preserve this country, and begin with me.”
This is written in the loving memory of the Great Filipino Woman, Dr. Miriam Defensor Santiago―the best president we’ve never had. The writer is also one of those who was greatly influenced by the late senator and was also interviewed in the 2nd Presidential Debate held in Cebu City.
Last Edited: September 29, 2019.